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Longform: When Roads Rise to Meet You

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I HAD BEEN A FULLY LICENSED DRIVER IN THE UNITED STATES FOR SIXTEEN YEARS when I took the Irish driving test and failed.

Irish people will tell you, proudly, that so many people fail because the test is difficult. The road test can go on for nearly an hour and minor infractions are meticulously recorded. Only about 55% of drivers pass and your chances significantly improve if you’re a man. But I didn’t fail because the test was hard — there was no written exam — nor because I was out of practice — I was well used to driving a stick shift on the opposite side of the road. I failed because of two sheep and a rainbow. But mainly — and I think my driving tester would agree — it was because of the sheep. Continue Reading…

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Found: Shell Vernacular

Before they were sold, the men and women in shackles had to turn their backs to prove they bore no marks — no one wanted a defiant slave. The placards in Charleston’s old slave mart provided these kinds of details, covering the walls so well that, after a while, we forgot we were standing where we were.

Meandering through the city, my mind crammed with descriptions of restored plantations and candy-colored houses, I almost overlooked an insidious sentence in Fodor’s guide to Charleston: “In neighborhoods where there is public housing, you would not want to walk around carefree, either by day or night.” Continue Reading…

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You Are Here: Edinburgh

At the castle no one was royal. They dragged along their common provenances, hometowns banging around on the cobblestones behind them like oxygen tanks keeping them all alive. In front of me an American woman blathered on about history to the cashier, a Scottish man who looked like he had fought in both World Wars and developed all of his wrinkles by falling asleep face first on presidential biographies.

“We don’t have castles in America, because that’s when the Native Americans were there,” she said, word for word, in a baby voice. Continue Reading…

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Longform: Sailing Alone Around the World

Batten down the hatches for this serious throwback, from 120 years ago: Captain Joshua Slocum’s adventure of becoming the first man to circumnavigate the world solo. Setting off in April 1895 from Boston aboard the thirty-six foot wooden sloop, Spray, Captain Slocum went on to sail forty-six thousand  miles over the next three years. Continue Reading…

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Journeys: Rishikesh, The Beatles’ Ashram

In India, I went everywhere by train. The train ride itself formed my image of my destination, whether I’d ridden first-class and had been served black tea on white china or third-class and had handed down grubby ten-rupee notes from the top bunk to men who poured sweet milky chai into single-use clay cups from dented metal tea kettles. The train to Haridwar took me five hours outside of Delhi and ended at a concrete station with people camped out all over the floor, multiple generations of families lying and crying, talking and eating.

The train station was old and crumbling, yet a man on a ladder slathered the soot coated, grimy walls (and floor, and himself) with bright blue paint. The floor was once painted red, which had since worn away to so many shades of brown and black. It was covered with brightly patterned blankets, home to people equally ravaged by time and overuse, wearing colorful saris over their small thin bodies. The colors masked the underlying problems, but who am I to say whether that is a bad thing or a good one. Continue Reading…

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You Are Here: They Run On Empty

“If you had told me in advanced where you were going, I would have bought gas in Mzuzu and it would have been cheaper,” Febias, our taxi driver, told us this morning. It is Tuesday, June 24th, and at around a quarter to nine we were on our way to conduct our third focus group. Minutes into our trip we were already pulling off the Tarmac onto a parallel dirt road; we stopped in front of a man sitting on a short stool next to a cardboard box. Five liters, Febias told him, at which the stool-sitter reached his hands into the box and extracted two large plastic containers of deep yellow liquid. The local gas station. Continue Reading…

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Longform: Circulo de Abuelos

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I’M ON THE ROPES and she knows it.

Crow’s feet deepen as her eyes flit from domino chain to trough and back again, but Raquel doesn’t seem worried. Calculating maybe, but not worried. A two and a six sit at opposite ends of the wooden serpent, waiting for a match as Havana’s late afternoon thunderclaps shake our flimsy card table. Outside her apartment porch the tropical downpour intensifies. Dulce, Georgia, and I shorten our breaths as Raquel thumbs her dotted arsenal. Suddenly knuckles stretch taught, an arm rises up, and wood meets plastic with a resounding THWAP!

Double two. “Igual,” she smirks, rubbing her palms together. Same. Continue Reading…

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From the Magazine: Dead Tourist Bar

A bartender reads her customers, looking for hints whether this will be their last night alive.

 

Dead Tourist Bar

By Elizabeth Kellar

(Fiction)

This is the tricky part.

A guy enters a bar, orders a drink. I serve it to him, and then I wait. I watch. I look for anything that suggests this is his last night on Earth. Continue Reading…

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You Are Here: Marrakech

In 1998 on the night before Marrakech, I had a dream that I awoke in a splendorous Arab city with orange walls and castles, with a mesa and cliffs at one end and hills that looked like dunes at the other. There was an old man in a head scarf, taller than the walls.

When the train rolled into Marrakech I was overwhelmed by how much the landscape and the colors looked like my dream that I had a sense of foreboding. The similarities were eerie. We passed through a palm forest near the city, just north of town, and that was in my dream too. I felt like I was moving headlong into the end of days, but I also felt victorious, like being there was winning the lottery. Continue Reading…

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Longform: Krisis

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THE SIGNS WERE EVERYWHERE.

A wire mesh world sat in the Thessaloniki harbor, a public sculpture left to decay, the carcass seemingly picked clean by the perched black birds. Graffiti, shuttered stores, a destruction of wild cats dumpster diving, the return of wood smoke in the air from heating stoves, the bright rash of OPAP gambling outlets on every block, an itch to scratch.

In Greece, they simply called it the krisis — it’s more fundamental than financial. Every nation state is a fable, a story each people tells itself. What happened in Greece was they stopped believing the tale that had enabled the corruption and abuse of power. But then came the banks, bonds and bailouts and a country was felled. Continue Reading…

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